Sarcoidosis is a disease in which there are tiny collections of inflammatory cells, called granulomas, that grow in the body. They are most common in the lungs and lymph nodes, but can grow in any part of the body, including the eyes, heart, skin, and any other organ of the body. Most people have never heard of it, or don’t know much about it.
What causes sarcoidosis?
We are not sure of the exact cause of sarcoidosis. Experts believe that it is a result of the body’s immune system reacting to an unknown substance. There is probably a genetic predisposition that causes the body to form these granulomas in response to various substances that the immune system perceives as foreign, such as bacteria, viruses, dust, or chemicals.
There are some things that seem to increase your risk of developing sarcoidosis, including:
- Age – Most often occurs between age 20-60 years old
- Sex – Women are at slightly higher risk
- Race – People of African descent and Northern European descent have a higher incidence of sarcoidosis. African Americans are more likely to have involvement of organs besides the lungs.
- Family history – You are at higher risk if a family member has had sarcoidosis.
What are the symptoms of sarcoidosis?
Symptoms can vary depending on what part of the body is affected. The symptoms will sometimes develop gradually over several years but can sometimes appear suddenly. Some people with sarcoidosis have no symptoms. They may be found to have sarcoidosis after a chest X-ray that was done for an unrelated reason. Here are some of the possible symptoms of sarcoidosis:
Lung Symptoms – Because the lungs are most often affected, common symptoms include:
- Persistent cough – usually dry
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Weight loss
- Pain and swelling in joints
- Rash – Usually red or purple bumps on the shins or ankles
- Sores on the nose, cheeks, or ears – which can be disfiguring
- Variation in skin pigment with darker or lighter areas
- Growths under the skin – often around or under scars or tattoos
- Chest pain
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swelling – usually in the legs
- Blurry vision
- Eye pain, burning, itching, or dryness
- Severe redness
- Light sensitivity
Next week, we will continue our discussion with more about diagnosis, treatment, and possible complications of sarcoidosis.
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Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor